You’re probably familiar with the stereotype of the lonesome and reclusive author that hides from society while penning poignant works of genius–and yes, it’s actually quite common for writers to be introverted. But it’s also common for writers to be outgoing and social, wanting to be out and about in the world, mingling with the people and experiences that they write about. And then there are these writers–those that took “being social” to the next level.
Each of the writers on this list were known for their hard-partying ways–some partied sober, while others partied by experimenting with alcohol or drugs–but each of them smashed the stereotype of the lonesome writer into pieces. So let’s take a look at a few of literature’s top party animals.
Although it’s said that Wilde had love for absinthe, he earns a spot on our list based purely on his wit. In his heyday, Wilde was a revered guest of dinner parties, where he charmed and captivated the other guests with his conversational skills and sharp tongue. He was well-known in his time for his humor, flamboyant dress, and appreciation for the beautiful and sensual things in life, qualities which always made him the life of the party.
Zora Neale Hurston
One of the most noteworthy authors of the Harlem Renaissance, Hurston is best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. She was also known for her warm and vibrant personality and for hosting wild parties at her apartment, attracting renowned contemporaries such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Unlike most of the other great authors on our list, Zora rarely drank–and yet, as fellow writer Sterling Brown has said, “When Zora was there, she was the party.”
Truman Capote, perhaps best known for his works Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and In Cold Blood (1966), was notorious for his alcohol and drug issues. Although he became something of a recluse in his later years, younger Capote was very much a partier, mingling with high profile people from all realms of life. He famously threw one of history’s wildest parties, the Black and White Ball of 1966, where he served 450 bottles of Taittinger champagne.
Dylan Thomas had rockstar levels of fame in his day, both for his poetry and his drinking. In fact, his last words before passing away at the age of 39 were “I’ve had 18 straight whiskies……I think that’s the record.” Even though he became more withdrawn as his fame increased, he still partied like a champ. One anecdote describes an incident in which Thomas crashed a car through Charlie Chaplin’s tennis net, and responded to Chaplin’s disgust at his drunken behavior by urinating on a plant. Perhaps that just makes Thomas more of an asshole than a party animal.
Novelist and diarist Anais Nin was known for her bohemian lifestyle, which she recorded in her extensive journals. While she was somewhat distrustful of drug addicts, Nin was a partier and had no qualms about dabbling, whether it be LSD or bigamy. Her desire to live life to the fullest is perhaps best summed up in a quote: “I want to hear raucous music, to see faces, to brush against bodies, to drink fiery Benedictine. Beautiful women and handsome men arouse fierce desires in me. I want to dance. I want drugs. I want to know perverse people, to be intimate with them. I never look at naive faces. I want to bite into life, and to be torn by it.”
We think that all of the Beat writers probably deserve a place on this list–they took partying to an entirely new level in the 50s and 60s–but while Kerouac became more reclusive over the years, Ginsberg only partied harder. Throughout his career, he often drew inspiration from his and his friends experiences with hard drugs and soft crime, creating some of the 20th century’s finest poetry in the process (and even pissing off the censors, as with his infamously obscene poem Howl). As the Beat movement waned, Ginsberg became associated with the psychedelic movement of the early 60s, immersing himself in LSD, shrooms, and traveling the world.
Speaking of psychedelics, we can’t leave out One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest author Ken Kesey. If you’ve ever read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, then you know why he’s on our list. Wolfe’s novel details the parties thrown by Kesey, which he called “Acid Tests”, where he and the guests (known as “Merry Pranksters”) took LSD, listened to the Grateful Dead, traveled cross-country in a painted schoolbus, hobnobbed with the Hell’s Angels, and partied hard. Kesey’s colorful life was also mentioned in works by Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson.
F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald
Scott and Zelda were literature’s most iconic and vibrant couple during the Jazz Age, known for their love of pranks, parties, and booze. Their antics, such as jumping into the Plaza Hotel’s fountain fully clothed, turned them into some of the most legendary partiers in history.
Hemingway had a famous love of drinking, but he also had a love for adventure and living life to the fullest. From booze binges with F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce to hunting big game in Africa, Hemingway did it all. His advice? “Don’t bother with churches, government buildings or city squares. If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”
Hunter S. Thompson
Known for Gonzo journalism and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971), Thompson was also known for his love of alcohol, drugs, and a good party. Thompson was the full spectrum–narcissistic, hyperbolic, energetic, charismatic–and trying to separate myth from reality can be a difficult task with him. But we do know that he invented a game of “shotgun golf”, used dynamite crates as furniture, and had his ashes shot out of a cannon after his death. Just one look at his daily routine should be enough to convince you that the man liked to party.
Honorable mention: Neal Cassady
Although he never actually published a book during his lifetime (his autobiographical novel The First Third was published posthumously), Cassady is one of history’s most legendary partiers. He served as a muse for many of the writers included in this list, such as Ginsberg, Kesey, and Thompson, with many great literary characters being based on him. For example, Dean Moriarty from Kerouac’s On the Road, with his vivid lust for the open road and new experiences, was inspired by Cassady. While his larger-than-life persona lives on in literature, the real Cassady quietly passed away at the age of 41, next to a railroad track in Mexico. In addition to many enthralling anecdotes, the man once described by Thompson as the only person that could party harder than he could also left us a bit of sage advice: “Twenty years of fast living – there’s just not much left, and my kids are all screwed up. Don’t do what I have done.”
And there we have it: literature’s top party animals, in all their debaucherous glory. Although alcohol and drugs are a common theme throughout the list, some of these writers had such passion for living that sobriety was no problem; others perhaps serve as examples of the consequences of living too hard. In any case, we think every one of these people would have been a blast to grab a beer with. How about you? Which of these writers, or a writer that we’ve missed, do you think had the most fun?
Which of these hard-partying authors are you most like? Take our literary party animal quiz to find out!